Co-ordinates: N 28º58’20”, W 013º31’32”
Weather: Mostly cloudy Air Temperature: 16ºC Wind: 15 knots
I had a wonderful time today. Since I took my volcanology courses in university I had been wanting to come to Lanzarote. My professor had been in the Canary Islands and I still remember the photos he used to show us in class. Lanzarote lived up to my expectations, it certainly did.
Under overcast skies we docked at the volcanic island of Lanzarote in the perfect cool of the morning. The first excursion of the day took us south to the spectacular lava fields of Timanfaya National Park, a series of lava fields, cinder cones, lava tubes and flows of basalt, which looked as if frozen in time. The last eruption here occurred in 1824, so the landscape around the main area of volcanic activity had a lunar feel to it.
At the park’s visitors centre we watched a series of volcanic “experiments”. Firstly they passed around a handful of Lapilli to everyone in our group, sediment that had been just picked up from the ground and it was too hot to hold in the palm of your hand. Then they took a heap of straw and twigs and shoved it in a crevice inside a hole in the ground. The temperature of the rocks only one metre below the surface is already 100ºC, twelve metres deep it is reaching 700 degrees. The straw naturally ignited in just a few seconds. The last of the experiments consisted in creating an artificial geyser. They had metal pipes stuck in the ground and when they poured water in them; it instantly boiled and was powerfully expelled from the pipe in a mixture of steam and water, just like a real geyser.
Following this interesting demonstration, the coach drivers took us through a very narrow and winding road that snaked through some spectacular sections of the lava flow. We left the park behind driving through gently rolling hills, barren, except for little villages of white cubic houses with black volcanic gardens totally devoid of trees. The island gets very little rain but the ingenious local inhabitants have managed to make the gardens productive by planting food crops for household use on a black bed of volcanic sediment, called lapilli.
The lava grains absorb the moisture from the Trade winds and deliver it to plants such as corn, wheat, eggplant, lentils and other crops, which are now planted only for household use. Larger plants, such as the shrub-like wine grapes are also grown commercially. These are planted into recessed depressions protected from the strong trade winds by low stone walls. The houses are all white and square with doors and windows trimmed in brown, green or blue, depending upon where the village is located: either inland or by the sea. This colour scheme was dictated by the late Cesar Manrique, local hero artist of international renown, who turned the whole island into a coordinated motif of lava, sea and sky accented with bright white painted irregular surfaces.
We then visited the Bodega El Grifo, the oldest wine cellar in the Canary Islands dating back to 1775. Their vineyard is grown in coarse volcanic sediment with bush-like grapes all protected by stone windscreens. Quite a spectacular sight and a form of cultivation I had never seen before. The property is comprised of 100 acres of vineyard, mainly of Malvasía grapes with some Moscatel and Listán Black; we enjoyed 3 different wines and visited the museum.
On the way back to the ship we stopped at the famous Cuervo Volcano; we walked around it and into the crater. The feeling of being inside the crater of a volcano added to the dramatic terrain and magnificent views for a memory I will never forget.
After a lovely lunch on board the Silver Explorer, we got back in the coaches and headed north. Our first stop was at the spectacular Jameos de Agua, a series of connected magnificent natural caverns that were redesigned by Manrique to serve as a spiritual earth garden with a brilliant blue water pool, performance auditorium, fascinating footpaths, a volcanology interpretative centre and manicured tropical plants, all sculpted to marry nature and art into a “harmonic synthesis.”
From there we went to visit Manrique’s last home, now converted to an art museum. The home exhibited the same sort of relationship between nature and the human spirit, marrying the stark beauty of the dark lava with brilliant white, cavernous passageways, and comfortable seating areas. An intriguing collection of his own paintings and those of other modern artists are displayed throughout.
The day was one of extreme contrasts. From the reality of violent volcanoes, contorted lava flows and stark villages, to the syncretism of the man who seized the real and altered it with his personal genius, creating a work of art out of the whole island.